CEO of OU Kosher Rabbi Menachem Genack remembers mother whose IDF son’s remains were returned after 37 years

Following a meeting at the Orthodox Union, Rabbi Genack appealed to then-President Bill Clinton to help Miriam Baumel find her son.

Yona and Miriam Baumel hold a picture of their missing son, Zachary. Credit: Courtesy.
Yona and Miriam Baumel hold a picture of their missing son, Zachary. Credit: Courtesy.

To this day, Orthodox Union CEO Rabbi Menachem Genack remembers the first time that Miriam and Yona Baumel, z”l, met with him at his office in the OU’s headquarters in New York City 30 years ago. The couple, originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., before emigrating to Israel, came to speak with him about their son, Zachary Baumel z”l, an Israel Defense Forces soldier who had gone missing in the First Lebanon War in 1982.

Miriam Baumel, z”l, passed away on Feb. 2 at age 89.

Zachary, a sergeant first class and tank commander, was declared a missing soldier after the Battle of Sultan Yacoub, along with two other Israeli soldiers. Zachary was 21 at the time. The Baumels pleaded with Rabbi Genack to meet with then-President Bill Clinton to help locate their son.

“Miriam and Yona were remarkable,” recalls Rabbi Genack. “They had such strong faith and devotion emanating from within, and had a complete belief that whether alive or passed, their son would be found.”

During one of many visits to the White House, Rabbi Genack told President Clinton about the Baumels’ plight and asked what could be done to find Zachary. During a subsequent visit years later, the president told the rabbi that he might have news about Zachary and asked him to call the parents. Rabbi Genack made the emotional phone call. Although the president’s efforts fell through, Rabbi Genack said Miriam and Yona never lost faith their son would be found.

In 2019, 37 years after her son’s disappearance, Zachary’s remains were found through the IDF’s “Operation Bittersweet Song,” a two-year mission to find the remains of Zachary and the other two missing soldiers, Sgt. First-Class Zvi Feldman and Sgt. First-Class Yehuda Katz. Only Zachary’s remains were located.

While Miriam’s husband had passed away 10 years earlier, she and her two other children attended Zachary’s funeral at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl military cemetery on April 4, 2019.

Am Yisrael (“The People of Israel”) hopes and prays that Zvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz, as well as all missing soldiers, return home soon.

Contact: OrthodoxUnionPR@ou.org

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Founded in 1898, the Orthodox Union (OU), or Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, serves as the voice of American Orthodox Jewry, with over 400 congregations in its synagogue network. As the umbrella organization for American Orthodox Jewry, the OU is at the forefront of advocacy work on both state and federal levels, outreach to Jewish teens and young professionals through NCSY, Israel Free Spirit Birthright, Yachad and OU Press, among many other divisions and programs.
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